TAMPA, Fla. — Fifty-five years ago, football fields were a lot simpler to manage and a less complicated manicure.
“We would only spend $750 to $1,000 for a Super Bowl,” legendary groundskeeper George Toma said. “Today, we’re spending $800,000 for the Super Bowl, just for the playing field.”
Toma is celebrating his 92nd birthday Tuesday. He has worked every Super Bowl and was not going to miss this one. For him, it’s all about hard work.
His reputation for immaculate fields grew over the decades. His philosophy is simple.
“My theory I preach and teach, the best insurance for any athlete from the pre-school children all the way up to the professional, the cheapest insurance is a safe playing field,” Toma said. “Number two, for the fans in the stands, it’s a field of beauty.”
The first thing Toma and his crew did at Raymond James Stadium was re-sod the field. He says the sod has to be 18-months old.
“It’s grown in Georgia,” Toma said. “We put plastic down, then we cut the sod, Bermuda.”
As we get closer to game day, the grass and paint get some damage.
“We have rehearsals now for halftime shows,” he said. “Last night they went from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.”
Not that Toma is complaining, he takes a timeout to get to know the halftime entertainment, over the years he’s made good friends.
“I talk to Paul McCartney,” he said. “I look him up, he looks me up.
But it’s Lady Gaga that’s given Toma a million reasons to be his favorite. They met when she performed the Super Bowl in 2017.
“I say Lady Gaga, she doesn’t have no entourage or anyone around her,” Toma said. “She walked the field, talked to me, to the grounds crew. What I liked about Lady Gaga she wasn’t a standoff."
Tom got his first job as a groundskeeper at 12-years-old in the Cleveland Indians organization before reaching legend status working for the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas City Royals.